Rye diary: Day three

I left town for a week and came back to these fringes of green.

rye grass

Not very tall—and at first glance, not very exciting, But looking closer, I see some lovely reddish shades.

rye grass close up

Before I could fully appreciate this, I had to ascertain whether indeed the rye had germinated or whether this was just a new crop of the weeds I pull (or don’t). But I think this is the real deal. To be sure, I need to wait a little longer.

I’ve been waiting in my writing, setting poems aside, picking them up again, panicking because I might not have the most recent draft. Sometimes, the poems grow on me, and I see opportunities for nuance, for the subtle shadings. Sometimes, I grow tired of them, convinced that they are terrible. Time for waiting is running out, with just over a month before I turn in my thesis. But I can still get close to the ground of them, inspect their stems and blades, their rhythms and imagery (and I suspect that imagery is at the root of my worries). A garden is always in revision—something for me to keep in mind as I keep working at these poems.

As the calendar cruises toward National Poetry Month, what are you cultivating?

The end of one practice…

(Originally posted on Feb. 20, 2019. My apologies that comments were lost.)

Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.

Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.

What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.

The end of one practice…the beginning of another.

I want to keep the momentum, to keep the practice going. And in this next round, I want to complicate the challenge, shift the choice by writing only from the first line, and then choosing 10 words to incorporate. But to further avoid bias, the word choices need to follow a pattern—like the first word of the first 10 lines, or the last word, or the first and last words of each stanza. I haven’t tried that kind of constraint before. And what if I get a bunch of articles or prepositions? It’s a learn-as-you-go choose-your-own-adventure, with a minimum of choosing. This morning, I took a new book off the shelf and started with the first poem. It did not go well in terms of stunning surprises, but it did go well in that I showed up. I practiced.

I would also benefit from getting into a revision practice, as I did in Poetry Month 2015. Harder, without that daily thrill of newness, but probably a better strategy for completing my thesis.

How about you? Have you been working or playing a poetry practice this year, or any other kind of practice?

Stuff to share: rejection, therapy, poetry, play

Driving to and from the tasting room last weekend, I heard things that got me thinking and got me happy, and I wanted to share them with you.

First, I heard a TED Radio Hour segment about rejection therapy, which made me think of the “100 rejections a year” goal. From a poetry perspective, Jia Jiang’s rejection therapy was more like submitting–after all, he did get quite a few acceptances, even though he was trying, deliberately asking for things he had little chance of getting.

Thinking about rejection led me to think about failure–the Samuel Beckett quote but also another TED talk about learning science–or learning anything, or revising a poem! although Mark Rober doesn’t mention that. Rober does point out that when something is hard, or we don’t get it (or, extrapolating, we get rejected), it’s easy to think we just aren’t good at it. Then he compares this despair (my word) with playing video games. Full disclosure: I’m not a gamer unless you count computer spider solitaire, but I’m willing to go with this. When you crash or die the first time in a video game, you don’t give up. Instead, you evaluate what you could do differently the next time, and you try again. Failure as challenge.

As I sit down to continue revising poems, I’m trying to imagine that joy of exploration, of trying and trying and trying just to see what might work better.

But first, in closing, I want to share the most inspirational piece I heard, bringing together failure as not failure, failure as play, some cool lyrical moves and turns and returns, and above all, a great generosity of joy: Amanda Palmer’s Ukulele Anthem. Give it a listen. And go play!

Poem as snow

No updates to the rye diary as it is still under snow, and now under more snow.

The snow, which is still falling lightly, so lightly now, always sparks my heart. I love the way that it transforms the ordinary, the way it both cloaks and sharpens shapes. Here is the lilac.

Here is the view from my front porch.

It’s gorgeous and it’s temporary—gorgeous because it’s temporary.

Even with the inconvenience and the cancelled plans (this was supposed to be wine and chocolate weekend at the winery), the snow gives me a chance to step back or step out, feel and hear the crunching under my boots, and just breathe it all in.

That said, there’s danger, right?

People losing power, icy patches where you can slip and fall or where your car can skid out of control or just get stuck. Or, you might, like me, worry about the rhododendrons and go out in your pajamas and a jacket, with a broom and no gloves (I realized too late that I needed those gloves) to shake the heavy weight off the branches before they split off.

On the other side of snow’s beauty is risk.

And isn’t that what a poem is? The sounds and images collecting, building, and balancing between a palpable beauty that can make us gasp and the tension, discomfort, fear that makes us hold our breath?

Recently, I’ve been looking at my poems to locate where that tension begins–or if it’s even there. If it isn’t, what is the poem trying to do? What is it lacking? What have I avoided saying, and where have I avoided going? What is the story behind the story, and what is the feeling under the surface of the language? What’s at stake?

A poem changes the landscape of my day, but it cannot make that change profoundly without risk.

Meanwhile, the snow is still falling.

The rye diary: Day two and still waiting

Yes, a rye diary is not a daily effort at this point, as the winter rye is taking its time. I was hoping to show you a picture of new sprouts. Every time I walked past the patch, I’d bend close and examine the seeds left on the surface for signs of change. Saturday, after some rain, I thought I saw progress—miniscule roots venturing out. Maybe by the next day?

The next day brought snow—at first, just a scattering.

snow scattered on the ground

In the night, a blanket. Two days later, the rye patch is still covered, and the temperature huddles in the high 20s.

snow covering the garden

Not ideal for germination.

I love the snow anyway, and I started to think about it in terms of writing.

Snow obscures. I am all for the lyric, the figurative, but I have at times hidden what I’m saying under images or, more often, beguiling sounds. While I’m trying to make something beautiful, I might be freezing out the reader, and myself.

Snow transforms. Now we’re getting somewhere. As snow changes the familiar landscape, it invites me to see those trees, rooftops, and garbage cans differently. A poem can similarly transform my understanding, give me that same “Ah!” feeling of waking up to a world snow-rendered.

Snow disrupts. I have to change my routine, find my heavy boots. Disruption in a poem catches my attention.

Snow on my rye patch makes me wonder what’s going on below the surface. It also makes me wait, which gets me thinking about the advice to put a poem in a drawer for X amount of time. I do not usually do that (what? patience?). During my thesis work this year, I focus on a few poems at a time, while the rest are in a virtual drawer—or under snow. This gives me some distance from them.

When I come back to that temporarily neglected work, I see new gaps, new flaws, new stones to turn over or toss aside. Even my poem that has rye in it, and which I thought was the best poem I have written yet, and which has been rejected multiple times–this morning I found some tricky places where I might not want to be tricky.

How do you get distance from your work? (And if you set poems aside, what’s your magic waiting time?) What are your snowy writing connections?